Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Exploring the Old Capital - Srirangapatnam

It was my second visit to Srirangapatna. First time, we went straight to Sangamam and then to Mysore. This time the journey was dedicated to Srirangapatnam and Ranganathittu Bird Sanctuary, but we had to cut the latter in the last minute.

It was one of the coldest mornings in this season; yet we (Me, Gokul, Nixon, Rakesh, Aldrine, and Subeesh) finally assembled at St. Jones Cross around 6.45 in the morning. From here we took one bus to Mysore Satellite stand and reached there around 7.45. Located on Bangalore - Mysore highway Srirangapatnam is easily accessible from both Cities. We boarded one Karnataka RTC bus and its tire slowly started rolling around 8.00 am.

Soon we left the borders of Bangalore and found ourselves moving through the lonely SH 17, the Bangalore - Mysore highway. There was hardly anything to see on both sides of the road other than some crowds in the towns and bus stands. I slept for a good part of the journey. After short journey of 3 hours we crossed the river and reached the river (Kavery) island Srirangapatnam (approx 20kms away from Mysore).

History of Srirangapatnam

During the time of Vijayanagar Empire City was the seat of a major viceroyalty. It is from here Vijayanagar Viceroys oversaw the vassal states of Mysore and Talakkad. During the decline of Vijayanagar city fell in to the hands of Mysore Raja Wodeyar - 1610. Later, during the reign of Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan Srirangapatnam again rose in to prominence - in the form of their capital. This place also witnessed several historical incidents like the Siege of Srirangapatnam during the Third Anglo - Mysore war and the Final and Decisive battle of Fourth Anglo-Mysore (1799) war which ended in the death of 'Tipu Sultan' and the end of a major threat to the East India company.

Dariya Daulat Bagh

After walking some meters from the bus stop, we saw the big board on the left welcoming us. We took the left turn from the highway and entered the road going to the Sangamam. After walking some time, we reached the crowded Dariya Daulat Bagh - A 1784 summer retreat of Tipu Sultan (entry fee 5 Rs for adults, no separate charge for Camera (excluding video camera). After crossing the beautiful garden we entered the main building - A structure made of Teak and built in Indo-Saracenic style. This building contains a lot of paintings in its inner and outer walls. Here you can see a small number of items used by Sultan and some old swords. For seeing the rest we have to go to British Isles!!!

Access to the visitors was limited to the ground floor. On the exit there was a full life painting of Tipu Sultan. A guide, standing close to me, was explaining about this painting to a foreign visitor. In the end he added, "This is similar to Monalisa, just walk in any  direction you want by looking to the painting, you will feel that the eyes and legs of Sultan are always in your direction".

Srirangapatnam Fort

We slowly came out of the Bagh, the compound also had a number of monkeys. As it was lunch time, we went straight to a veg hotel in the sides of main highway. After lunch we walked towards the fort, whose entrance is close to the bus stand. Built in 1537 by Kempe Gowda, this fort with its double walled defence system is considered as one of the toughest forts in India. This fort, which also contains a Jain temple, had four main entrances known as Delhi Gate, Bangalore Gate, Mysore Gate and Water and Elephant Gates. Time and war took its toll on this building, now it’s almost gone.

Our first destination inside the fort was Juma Masjid, crowded with pigeons the minarets of the Masjid was very much interesting. We got an auto driver from here, who was very eager to show us the entire historic city. After much negotiation finally we reached a mutually agreeable amount and boarded his three tired old Bajaj auto. I took the half seat along with the driver in the front and rest of the people adjusted themselves in the back. Our first destination was an old ammunition depot; from here you can saw the entire fort and the city.

RanganathaSwamy Temple

After crossing the Jain temple we reached the famous RanganathaSwamy Temple. Unfortunately it was closed by the time we reached there. Here Swami Ranganatha lie in a relaxed position on the bed of Adi Shesha. Apart from the shrines of Ranganayaki Thaayaar and Lord Krishna this temple also contains the images of Gowtama Muni and Kaveri. There was a big chariot parked in front of the temple. According to the belief all the islands formed by Kavery river are for Ranganathaswamy, and large temples were built in the three of the biggest islands of Kavery in the ancient times dedicated to RanganathaSwamy. 'Adi Ranga' at Srirangapattnam, 'Madya Ranga' at Shivsamudra and 'Anthya Ranga' at Srirangam.

It looked like carrying seven people, including driver, was too much for that poor three legged vehicle. In front  of the temple, auto's tyre was punctured and driver started his marathon for replacement. From the temple, we went to Col Bailey’s Dungeon - a small building measuring 30.5m wide and 12.2m high. It was in this dungeon, built using brick and mortar, Tipu imprisoned Col Bailey, Capt Baird, Col Brithwite, Capt Rulay, Frazer, Samson and Lindsay.

After visiting the dungeon we came back to the temple, we waited a long time for the driver. After giving him a last call we decided to start walking. Quickly he reappeared on the scene and replaced the tyre. Later he claimed that, it was the first time such a thing was happening to that auto - a comment hardly anyone can swallow after seeing the poor state of that machine!!!

Next point was Tipu's palace - I was unable to see anything close to a palace in that place. An unfortunate end for a building which once controlled a good part of South India. We continued our journey, and saw the place where the soldiers of East India Company broke in to the fort; Tipu was killed some yards away from here. I silently stand in front of the memorial for some time remembering about the Anglo-Mysore wars and the final battle.


Once again we crossed the main road and went straight. On the way there was a board indicating the distance to the famous Nimishamba Temple. With in some time our chariot reached Sangamam, we slowly walked towards the water body, which are on their way to Bay of Bengal.


Gumbaz was the next destination. On our return trip to main road from Sangamam we reached Gumbaz - The Mausoleum of Tipu Sultan, his father Hyder Ali and his mother Fathima Begum. The inner walls of the Mausoleum were covered with tiger stripes. This compound also contains the tombs of many other people from Tipu’s family.

There is a large ground beautifully decorated with green grass and dotted with red flowers. After removing the shoes (shoes are strictly prohibited) we went inside. I joined a small queue waiting to enter the mausoleum. Inside, three tombs - Hyder Ali's in the middle, Tipu’s and his mother's were on both sides. We stood there silently for some time, thinking about the past glory of Srirangapatnam and Anglo-Mysore wars.

Horse riding was available on the road. They offerered a horse ride for some 150-200m, just for 120 rupees!!! Interesting thing was, some 30 minutes back while we went in to the Gumbaz charge was 60!!! Some of us were not interested and some others were remembering the fate of Superman hero 'Christopher Reeves' didn't go for horse riding. Only Nixon and Aldrine were interested in horse riding, as they were bargaining the charge came down very fast to normal rate.

Finally it’s time to leave, with a very heavy heart I dropped Ranganathittu Sanctuary for another time. As it was not easy to reach Ranganathittu sanctuary before 5pm, so we went back to the main road and boarded another KSRTC bus to Bangalore.


Tail Piece

Maddur Vada: Maddur is a town located on Mysore - Bangalore highway on Mandya district. On the return journey bus stopped for some time on a bus stand there. We just went out and bought some snacks. One of them was Maddur Vada, with a different taste, if you are travelling through Maddur don't forget to get down there and enjoy this special food of Maddur.

Please visit agian for seeing the photos.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The other side of Oil Economy - Nigerian Protests

Lagos Island and part of Lagos Harbour - Nigeria
If we had some oil and gas!!! A thought which may came to the minds of millions of people living in the countries deprived of oil and gas (and subjected to oil shocks). Tensions in Middle East – which will happen constantly – used to give sleepless nights to the governments. A sober condition, if government absorbs the shock the deficit will balloon beyond any control; if they pass it to the common people, law makers will see the protesters on streets in the next day. In both cases foreign reserve will evaporate quickly.

But what’s the situation in oil economies. Let’s take the case of African oil giant Nigeria where the protesters are in streets opposing the recently doubled price of oil (from 65 Naira (0.4$) to 97 Naira (0.6$)). It’s another matter that, after facing severe protests in the streets government reduced the price by 30%. If I can put it in official way “given the hardships being suffered by Nigerians, and after due consideration and consultations with state governors and the leadership of the National Assembly, government has approved the reduction of the pump price of petrol to 97 naira (about $0.60) per litre". But what Nigerians think about their oil assets, I just went through the opinions expressed by people in various newspapers.  A number of them are given below,
Nigeria, like most of Africa does not produce anything itself, it is just luck that Nigeria has a commodity that the world wants, when that changes what will Nigeria do then?

...citizens are divided between the very few rich and the very many poor. It’s only thru the fuel subsidy that the poor feels the government. Citizens generate their own electricity and water. We don't have roads and educational facilities. The rich man's children are abroad.

Government through a public/private partnership should first provide steady electricity, good roads and clean water supply before asking Nigerians to make more sacrifice. Politicians should cut their salary and perks.

You have no idea what is like for the ordinary Nigerian! There is no cheap public transport system. The public is transported to work in the majority of states by a taxi system [OKADAS] which are small motor bikes, what do you think they consume? Water? This is why people are protesting, their cost of living has doubled but their wages remain the same, how would you survive?

The Petroleum Products Pricing Agency and the cabals that import petrol in a nation that exports 2M barrels of crude oil/ day, without functioning refinery. A senator's take home pay is $135,000/month.

Petrol subsidies are damaging for the environment, damaging for the Nigeria's economy, and are a subsidy for car owners paid by all - in effect a subsidy for the relatively well off.
The problems are manifold. Even though Nigeria is a major oil producer she doesn’t have a decent refinery to refine the crude to fuel. The result is, Nigeria imports oil for its domestic purpose - an unnecessary expenditure for a long term oil producer. Another constant complain among people is, Petro dollars flowing in to the country is not making its impact on critical infrastructure because of this people need to have oil running their diesel generators.

IMF was pushing for reducing the subsidy on oil for long time. According to Nigerian authorities subsidy was costing an equivalent of $8bn a year. They claim that this money can better spend in infrastructure and social services. An argument, administration was unable to sell to the people. Government claims that the advantage of low price for oil is going to the wholesalers, who in turn sell the subsidized fuel in neighbouring countries at full price.

Let’s consider the first case.

IMF is right, subsidized oil is creating a big hole in government's finances. But the question is what is exactly by subsidy? In the case of India, Korea, China, Germany etc, we can say that government should reduce the subsidy as these countries are buying oil from external market for full price. If government gives heavy subsidies for this imported oil, it will not take much time for the administration to find them in deep financial crisis. But in Nigeria’s case, it has the oil – in fact a plenty of oil. Why Nigerians need to pay heavy price for an item which is so abundant in their country?

It is altogether another matter that Nigeria is importing an 85% of fuel it needed from international markets because of the absence of something called a decent refinery. This is administrations problem, after all it was an oil exporter for a long time. So basically the people need to pay for the inefficiency of their administration. Same is the case with many other petro dollar economies; these countries have resources but lack the refining capacity. So in the end of the day they needs to import oil even for basic needs - the same oil they export will come back in the form of fuel but with higher prices.

What is happening to the amount countries are earning through oil export? Well, there is an excellent economic term defining it - oil curse. If Nigeria wants to change all these needs to go. Only reforms can save the country. First of its urgent to modernize the oil sector, without adequate refining capacity whatever they earned through selling the crude will evaporate by buying the oil from the foreign markets. At the same time the over-dependence on oil is dangerous, if the price of oil come down the nation will suffer a lot. So the country needs to diversify its income base and develop infrastructure - rail, road, electricity etc to attract foreign and domestic investment.

Now let’s consider the second case.

As far as the wholesalers selling the subsidized fuel on foreign markets is concerned, its government’s job to curb it. That why government’s across the world have departments like Customs, Revenue intelligence, foreign trade board, security forces etc. Another problem is wide spread corruption, people are not ready to believe that additional money coming from the rise of the fuel price will be used to develop infrastructure!!! So curbing corruption is very much important to get confidence of people in government.


Nigeria is changing after government started reforms in 2008 - modernizing banking system, curbing inflation, prospering telecom sector etc. Change is reflecting in the growth rates also. In 2008 economy grew by 6%, in 2009 it grew by 7% and in 2010 the growth rate touched 8.4% - decent rate for an African emerging market. But to sustain the growth government needs to push more reforms, but sensible ones. At the same time people also have to realize that, it will be very much painful to live in the reform years but if their country needs to place themselves on a firm track practices needs to be changed. After all, Nigeria needs to pull out 70% of her population from living below the poverty line.


Photo Courtesy: wikipedia

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Tale of Two Countries - Part II Pakistan

To read Part I see : A Tale of Two countries - Part I Myanmar

In Pakistan, Currently, the dangerous war of institutions (triangle one) is going on. Three sides of the triangle are occupied by all powerful army, civilian leadership and the Judiciary. The immediate future of the nation depends on who will come successfully out of this battle?

The recent crisis started with the US air raid of Abbottabad (located in the Hazara region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province) which killed al-Qaeda chief. In fact it was not started all of a sudden, the pressure was always there. Judiciary becomes more assertive after sailing along with the anti-Musharraf protests; Army, after facing a fatal blow to its prestige because of Abbottabad air raid, PNS Mehran naval attack, restive western borders, continuous bomb blasts in Pakistani cities wants to regain its old image; civilian leadership after passing through close to a decade long military regime want to prove themselves.

Well, the battle field became ready when Mansoor Ijaz (a Pakistani origin US business man) claimed that, he was asked by Pakistan's then ambassador to US 'Husain Haqqani' to deliver a secret letter to US admiral Mike Mullen seeking protection from a possible military coup (after death of 'Bin Laden' on May 2 the fear of coup was running high in Islamabad). In return for the protection, letter offered to abolish a part of Country's powerful spy agency - ISI. I am still curious, why Pakistan's ambassador selected a middle man to deliver the letter? After all the relationship between the Pakistan and US is better than that of Iran and US. Anyway 'Haqqani' lost his job.

Pakistan's president's immediate visit to Dubai raised the speculation of an immediate coup further. It is not clear whether Army was trying for a coup. According to Ijaz, DG ISI Lt. Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha visited Persian Gulf countries around the same time seeking support for the coup. An interesting part Army omitted when dragged the government to Supreme Court in the now famous 'Memogate' episode. This incident was followed by war of the words between civilian and military leadership of the country.

In December, Pakistani PM warned that he would not tolerate a 'state with in a state'. Later army chief Gen Kayani clarified that military is not planning any coup. Later Premier Mr. Gilani removed Defence secretary - a three star general and a traditional intermediate between government and army - for alleged misconduct. This action led to an emergency meeting of top level army officials. It is interesting to see that the civilian leadership is putting a brave stand before the mighty army. On the day of ousting the defence secratary military issued a release saying that government’s statements could have "very serious ramifications with potentially grievous consequences for the country". They stopped short of elaborating what these consequences are.

So what will happen next? Pakistan already went through a number of coups in 1958, 1969, 1977, 1999 - the most recent one. Will history repeats itself?

Supreme Court's recent order asking government to co-op with a corruption investigation against the president Mr. Zardari only made the situation worse for the civilian government. It didn't stop there, court accused Premier Mr. Gilani for 'Willful disobedience' and issued a contempt of court notice for implementation of NRO and asked to appear before it on January 19.

For Army

Will Army try to stage a coup? I guess no, when the country is passing through economic turmoil and increasing attacks in the western border a coup may be disaster for army. Moreover, after Mushraff era both people and judiciary are very much active. Above all, whatever be the case current government was elected by people, pulling down it may not go down well both internally and externally. It may not only invite sanctions but also cut down the aid significantly. At this stage, when the date for pulling out from Afghanistan approaching faster, a coup may be the last thing Washington can imagine. Another possibility is cutting down the extension of 3 years given to General and DG ISI's, which will force both of them to retire. I guess, government may not go for any such drastic steps.

For Civilian Government

Memo scandal and its handling badly hit administration. Even though government hit hard against army, the foundations of government is getting weaker day-by-day. Cases against the president are still in court, economy is in crisis, cities are rocked with bomb explosion every now and then, government is not able to sell the importance of relations with US to people. In such a situation only a fresh elections can improve the situation. Will the ruling party go for fresh elections? After all, there is no guarantee that people will re-elect PPP back to power.

For Judiciary

This is leading to a dangerous clash of institutions which can set wrong precedents for future. So it is important for Judiciary to intervene at correct time without crossing the marks between executive and Judiciary. At the same time they have to make sure that nothing is going against constitution. They should not over act, out of three institutions only the executive is directly elected by people.

For India

In such a situation, we can serve ourselves best by keeping quiet. We don’t have to say anything; Indian officials should strictly refrain from adding any extra or unwanted comments. At this point of time we should not take any radical actions in Afghanistan theatre also, apart from the one’s which are necessary for protecting the interest of the nation - that too not overtly. Any such actions will be perceived as survival issue on other side of the border.

This is Pakistan's crisis, a crisis which country needs to sort out own its own. This provides one of the biggest opportunities in the recent times for Pakistan to build and strengthen their institutions. It’s their battle; let them solve it. We call can hope that the country will come out of the crisis successfully.


Both Myanmar and Pakistan are passing through some of the critical moments. Their future is depending on the actions they will take now. In Pakistan, it’s the struggle of the institutions and the fate of her neighbour – Afghanistan. In Myanmar it’s about opening a closed country to the world of opportunities. As Indians – India shares a long border with both countries – we also have a stake on the development of and progress of both countries. If the countries are taking right decisions it will bring stable peace to South Asia and South-East Asia.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

A Tale of Two countries - Part I Myanmar

Cargo ships on the shores of Yangon River Myanmar
Myanmar is going through an interesting phase. Even one year back hardly anyone believed that changes can happen in this resource rich country - Once part of British India. Life seems to be constant in this part of the world, once ruled by British. Myanmar regime seems to be happy with their limited ties with the outside world – deep ties with her north eastern neighbour and membership in ASEAN. In other parts of the world Burmese Junta was a symbol of repression. But the quick reforms in the country were a surprise even for a dedicated Myanmar analyst.

What forced this change is still a matter of debate. It can be the desire to remove the tag of outlaws; it can be the desire to develop the nation; a desire to escape from the pressing sanctions; to escape from the tight embrace of northern neighbour; influence of Arab springs etc… Anything can be the reason.

Whatever it may be, the speed of change is amazing. Military regime which didn't accept foreign aid workers during the last devastating cyclone is willing hold talks with foreign negotiators, signing peace treaties with tribes in the restive eastern border, freeing political prisoners including pro-democracy leader ‘Aung San Suu Kyi’ and leaders of the previous anti-regime leaders, allowing trade unions and peaceful protests…

Stopping the construction of controversial Myitsone dam and other projects, that too in the name of the people, was really shocking for Myanmar watchers. What forced Myanmar to take such a drastic step which burned the hands (it’s a 3.6 bn+ USD project) of her northern neighbour?

As the regime of Twan Shwe is moving ahead with reforms, dividends are flowing in,

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, in Myanmar this week, said Monday that France and the EU would respond "positively and in concrete terms to the significant gestures" from Myanmar's government. He also announced an increase in bilateral aid.

Australia said it was removing some Myanmar citizens from a list of individuals subject to financial and travel restrictions, though it retained an arms embargo against the country

The U.S. announced Friday it would resume full diplomatic relations with Myanmar, following its release of scores of high-profile political prisoners after years of pressure from Western leaders.

 If Myanmar opened the markets and move ahead with pro-democracy policies the resource rich country (Myanmar is rich in natural resources like natural gas etc) will be able to integrate with outer world and attract foreign investment. This will able to create more employment opportunities and raise the industrial production in the country. 

Outdoor market, Yangon, Myanmar
But the million dolor question is how far the current military backed regime can move ahead with reforms? By-election may be ok, but the game is totally different in the case of full general election as there is all possibility that the army will lose the majority in parliament. The scenario may not come today but in the future it will be. Will the people in uniform, who enjoyed power for a major part of country’s independent history, be ready to go back to the barracks? Will they be ready to live without enjoying the fruits of power and live under a civilian government?

If Myanmar is able to implement more reforms western governments will ease sanctions. Financial sanctions may be the first one to go; arms embargo may be in place for longer time. But the question is will the Army cross the line in reforms, after which there will not be any U turns? 

Well, it’s an interesting question. I think the army will move ahead with reforms, a civilian government may come back to power. It may not be a full civilian government - a sort of in between, where army will have some sort of veto on critical issues. All depend on future civilian leadership, how far they will be able to assert themselves in the office, at the same time without hurting the army.

Another thing is China factor. Chine have significant investments on the country, there hope for a land access to Indian Ocean Sea lines laying in Myanmar (Gwadar link passing through the restive provinces of Pakistan is already facing practical and security difficulties). It will be easier for China to deal with a military regime which depends completely on them for arms and other critical inputs than a pro-western government. Moreover Chinese ethnic tribes have considerable influence in Burma - Chinese border. Still I think China will accept the new leadership and modify their plans accordingly to suit the changed scenarios.

In such an evolving scenario what should Indians do? Our interest is in engaging with both civilian and military leadership. Even if military lose power in the next full elections they will continue to have a say in government decisions. It is important for us to create an eastern gateway to sea for our landlocked north-eastern states through Myanmar. This will be helpful for both countries; Indian investment in infrastructure will help both countries. Moreover our land access to SE Asian countries goes through Myanmar only. So it is important for Indian government to engage more with civilian and military leadership. A joint exercise on Counterinsurgency with Myanmar army in Indo-Myanmar border can be an initial step, along with providing more scholarships for Burmese students to study in India.

Let us hope that Myanmar will come out of the deep trench they built for themselves and effectively engage with rest of the world.


To read part two see : A Tale of Two Countries - Part II Pakistan

Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia

Election promises, Is that what people need?

As January advances through her third week, temperature is going further down. Last day my friend was complaining about the low temperature in the recent Bangalore nights. It was lower than the previous year, but compared to northern India we in Deccan are blessed with a comfortable weather. But this low temperature doesn’t create any problem for the promises coming out of various party head quarters in Delhi. Water in Yamuna may reduced to the dangerous level threatening the existence of beautiful TajMahal, but the political promises cooked in capital is increasing its strength day by day.

I was going through the election promises by various parties, but what shocked me were two reports about the plight of rural society. According to a report on The Hindu,

"Four days after she was beaten up, stripped and paraded in her own village, 42-year-old Dalit widow Rekha Arun Chavan wonders if she would have lived a life of more dignity had she been born in an upper caste." What was her fault? Her son allegedly eloped with a Maratha girl.

The second report (TOI) was form Kutch,

"As part of age-old practice of branding kids in the supposed belief that it will cure them of their ailments, a two-and-a-half-year-old girl was branded twelve times on her abdomen in the remote Vagad village of Kutch district...girl was branded with hot iron on her lower chest and upper part of the abdomen."These are not isolated cases happening in some remote locations of the country. When the recent BBC show mocked our culture we were all standup against the mighty broadcaster against the show. But are we really prepared to stand up against the weakness in our society?

People in Uttarakhand will be more interested in living with their own hard earned money than government's unemployment allowance. Give them an opportunity; they will make the state the ‘Switzerland of India’ - original promise given to them while creating a separate state. More than reservation minority (as well as majority) need assistance for education and starting up new busines.
So as the case with Punjab, Hindustan Times reports that,

"According to official data of the poll body, a total cash of Rs 18.84 crores was seized by these teams, while other seizures included - poppy husk 2,101 kg, illicit foreign liquor 36 lakh Milli Litres (ML) and 82,782 bottles of country wine."

The amount mentioned is not in some thousands or lakhs, but a whopping 19 crores; from where this unaccounted money came?

The promises should be something which gives people a hope to live, not something which will divide them further. A hope which will make them believe that we are also a part of society, instead of making them believe that they are separate by strengthening the division based on caste and religion. A hope which guarantees that they will get equal opportunity, instead of classifying them based on their birth - which in any way is beyond our control. A guarantee that they will get quality education and other government services on an equally likely basis instead of begging (and paying) in front of officials for getting the benefits they are legally entitled to. Let's create a manifesto which will be forward looking instead of pulling the back.


Saturday, January 7, 2012

Death in Ethnic Violence crossed 3000 in South Sudan

A village in South Sudan - In the expectation of a normal life
Last year many people across the world especially in Africa thought that finally there will be peace in Sudan. If not economic progress at least the fighting will stop, the oil money will help the country to develop infrastructure and provide basic facilities to the people. These were some of the hopes and aspirations when the country becomes independent in last year after a plebiscite. But the future kept something else in its reserve – deadly cattle raids and massacres.

Well it didn’t take much time to realize that peace is still a mirage in this part of Africa. After independence, when one enemy left the screen it didn’t take much time to find another enemy in the home itself. In the recent cattle raids and following massacres more than 3000 people are already killed - and there is all possibility that the number might increase as the tribes are still fighting. Cattle raids and tribal violence were not rare in Africa. It is part of the region’s history for some time. Modernity only made these tragic adventures and bloody sports of opposing tribal’s much more lethal and tragic by providing AK 47s and other guns.

According to the reports,
"According to Joshua Konyi, the commissioner of Pibor County and a Murle, 2,182 women and children and 959 men were killed, 1,293 children were abducted and 375,186 cows were stolen...He said Lou Nuer fighters had mercilessly hunted down civilians who were cowering in the bush. Other Murle leaders said hundreds of women had been chased into a river, where they drowned...In late December, the column of Lou Nuer fighters began marching toward Pibor, burning huts along the way. The United Nations rushed 400 peacekeepers to Pibor, trying to defend the town alongside about 400 South Sudanese government troops"..
Well this small company of 800 troops may not be able to protect the tribes and defend the city of Pibor along with vast stretches of African Savanna. In the Middle East, politicians, economists, strategists are worried about the possibility of an Iranian blockade of Hormuz strait. Here in this corner of the world there is no space for any doubts, if the foreign troops are not deployed immediately there will be much more massacres.


Image Courtesy: Wikipedia

Monday, January 2, 2012

Lokpal Bill - All in the name of Federalism

Purely legalistic, technical reasons instead of moral or natural ones - This is what we can define the pandemonium we saw in the Parliament during the discussion of Lokpal Bill, the way Upper House behaved in the last day of her Winter Session. Especially the ballooned reasons like - attack on federalism, invading rights of states etc more looked like excuses than arguments.

I am not going to the merit or drawback of Lokpal. Even after these much debates I don't know how it will stop corruption; how it will protect a street vendor from paying money daily to the Police; I don't know how it will protect a person who is forced to use a low quality service from the state than he deserve; I don’t know how it will help in moving a file from one table to another; I don't know how it will help people who are buying mineral water from railway stations, bus stands, tourist places etc from paying amounts above the MRP (even the relatively simple consumer laws didn’t able to stop this)... I don't know many of these things.

Corruption is not specific to any region or state. It is a nationwide phenomenon, people can tell stories of corruption from different parts of India; the language may be different but the core will be same. If you want to prevent - I will not say prevent better word may be 'try to prevent' - corruption you need to have national level action plan, atleast national level framework. A framework which every state should implement - above that they can make more severe laws. If left this to the states then we it may take another decade to for all the states to pass these laws. As I mentioned in my previous article related to the discom crisis, even after coming in to force in 2003, there are stated which didn’t implemented the law yet.

One of the reasons for Anna Hazare's second fast failed to attract people may be their belief in government – as Parliament took the issue finally something will happen. This something may tied them to the indoors. So it is the duty of both government and the opposition to discuss the issues in parliament, people are not interested in a lengthy debate on federalism, not on whether the law should be under article 252 or 253 but an output. An output which will force the officials to think twice before forcing the common man to fill their pockets. This is what people expect form the lawmakers in the next parliamentary session.


Sunday, January 1, 2012

Iraq - Will the sectarian tension leads to disintegration?

Iraq - one of the prominent countries in the Middle East, the cradle of Mesopotamian civilization, is also a region which came under a wide verity of prominent empires in the world. In her recent history US attacked and toppled the regime of Saddam Husain, followed a long running bloody insurgency and sectarian violence. But after a US troop surge in the early 2007 there was some improvement in the ground situation; by the end of 2007 Iraq slowly came back to normal state.

2010 General Elections

This normal behavior led to ‘Status of Forces Agreement’ (SOFA), according to which US troops withdrew first form the cities by the end of June 2009 and completely out of Iraq by 2011 December end. Elections were conducted on time - even though it gave fractured results. In the last one conducted on 2010 (March 7) Iraqi National Movement (al-Iraqiya) led by Ayad Allawi won a total of 91 seat (out of 325) making it the largest alliance. Incumbent Premier Nouri Al-Maliki's ‘State of Law Coalition’ came second with 89 seats. Well, people selected their leaders, but no one got outright majority. These results roughly followed the sectarian division. After months of difficult negotiations Nouri Al-Maliki's become the Premier according to a US backed power sharing agreement.

The solution was destined to fail as it is difficult to have a long term co-op between forces that are not in good terms with one another. Coalition navigated through difficult waters till US military left the country.  One of the main problems was, people are viewing each other more as a Shiite or a Sunni than as national leaders. Maliki is not considered simply as a premier but a Shiite premier, same is the case with other leaders too. A dangerous situation when the state and the religion are not separate, as I pointed out in previous articles religion should not interfere in politics; it’s strictly personal, limited to the person.

So when the leaders are taking the sectarian divides in to politics it is destined to make problems. In a stormy situation like the one in Iraq, leaders need to navigate through the water with considerable care - there personal feelings should not interfere in political decisions. Most importantly they should not make use of sects for consolidating or gaining power.

Crisis - Arrest warrant against Vice President

The recent crisis began when 'A day after the United States withdrew its last combat troops, Iraq faced a dangerous political crisis Monday as the Shiite-dominated government ordered the arrest of the Sunni vice president [Tariq al-Hashimi], accusing him of running a death squad that assassinated police officers and government officials....The government made its case against Mr. Hashimi in a half-hour television broadcast that was as aggressively promoted as a prime-time special. In grainy video confessions, three men said they had committed murders on Mr. Hashimi’s behalf. They said they had blown up cars, attacked convoys with silenced pistols and were rewarded with envelopes containing $3,000 in American bills... [1]'. Vice President fled to Kurdistan area, which is beyond the reach of Maliki's forces. Later Mr. Hasimi vehemently denied the charges on television.

'In addition to seeking Mr. Hashimi’s arrest, Mr. Maliki has recently sought a vote of no-confidence from Parliament against another Sunni leader, a deputy prime minister, Saleh al-Mutlaq, for calling Mr. Maliki a “dictator” in a television interview.' Well, the damage is done. Whatever be the reasons Maliki had, the timing - just after US troops left - and concentrating on Sunni leaders made an impression on the people - especially in ‘al-Iraqiya’ coalition - which later boycotted the parliament and cabinet meetings.

Demands for Autonomy

Next scenario was expected, demands for autonomy from Baghdad- in the lines of Kurdistan - started coming from the Sunni areas. In between the normal atmosphere of Iraq went back to critical with a series bomb blasts in the country, which invariably ends up in killing more people. If the trust deficit among communities didn’t filled up properly the country may go back to days of violent sectarian crisis, which can also lead to the dismembering of the nation in sectarian lines or end up as a loose federation of thee groups - each led by Kurds, Sunnis, Shiites respectively. Without international forces in the ground and high intensity of arms among people the sectarian violence can reach dangerous levels.

It is the time for central authority to act fast and reach a consensus. If the Premier tried to consolidate his authority by expelling his opposition it can end up in another dictatorship. In a heavily armed region like Iraq - running a dictatorship may prove too costly. We know what will be the results of never ending warfare in the form of Afghanistan. There is no doubt an all inclusive government is an invitation for deadlock and paralysis. But this is the way forward for Iraq, at least till the political institutions matured enough to enable a permanent democratic environment. If not only time call what is in store for Iraq.

External Forces

Actions of Shiite Iran and its arch rival Sunni Saudi Arabia will also be critical in case Iraq is heading towards a bloody sectarian violence. If one started involving in the internal matters of Iraq it may not take much time for the other one to follow.


Hope that better sense will prevail and the pressure from inside and outside will force Iraqi leaders to take the route of consensus and national building. The irony is Iraqi's may have to see more bloodshed, poverty, poor infrastructure etc even after having blessed with huge amount of Oil and Gas.


[1] New York Times Dec 19, 2011

Discom crisis and Indian power sector

Power, in both of its meanings, is one of the most sought after thing in the history of humanity. The important thing associated with power is, it's always short in supply. India too is not an exception, however in this article we are considering the meaning - energy.

Current Production

According to the information from the Ministry of Power (GoI - Nov 2011) we are producing 1, 85,496.62MW of power. Thermal power dominates with 65.66% (Coal - 55.45%, Gas - 9.56%, Oil - .64%), Hydro power contributes 20.88%, and rest is contributed by Nuclear and Renewable Energy Resources. In terms if installed capacity, state sector contributes 45.07% (83,605.65MW), centre contributes 30.76% (57,072.63MW) and the private sector's share is 24.16% (44,818.34).[1] The irony is, we are losing a good percentage of this rare entity through Transmission and Distribution (T&D) loses. Even though the government is proposing schemes like Restructured Accelerated Power Development & Reform Programme (R-APDRP with an outlay of 51,577 crores INR) it is yet to see how far we will be able to reduce the T&D loses including thefts.

We never produced enough power - If I can borrow a line from KPMG report on 'Power Sector in India - Jan 2010'

'A short peek at our past performances indicate that during the last three five year plans (8th, 9th and 10th), we have barely managed to achieve half of the capacity addition that was planned. As we enter the third year of the 11th five year plan, we have already seen slippages on the planned approx. 79 GW capacity addition.'

This clearly indicates that, in many cases we restricted our needs according to the availability of power instead of doing it in the other way - increasing the availability according to our needs. I still remember the days when there was an official load shedding in Kerala - a sweetened English word for power cut - of 30 minutes in between 6.30 to 9.30 (a cyclic) in the night (unofficial power cuts are extra); people used to finish everything before the stipulated slot or postpone. This slot will advance by 30 minutes after each week.

How much improvement we made in this area? Are we able to supply electricity 24*7 to industry and households? Still we need to shut down the supply to villages to maintain the supply to the cities? According to the reports,

"The average per capita consumption of electricity in India is estimated to be 704 kWh during 2008-09. However, this is fairly low when compared to that of some of the developed and emerging nations such US (~15,000 kWh) and China (~1,800 kWh). The world average stands at 2,300 kWh...[2]"

Electricity Act - 2003 and Reforms

Electricity Act - 2003 tried to reform the sector. This provided non-discriminatory open access over intra-state transmission and distribution networks along with re-organization of Electricity Boards, splitting the boards to three separate - Generation, Transmission and Distribution - units and privatization of power distribution sector. Many states are yet to swallow the reforms.

Problems in privatizing power distribution sector are multiple. Even if government wanted to bring in efficiency and competition by privatization it may not be as easy as in the case of other sectors, say telecoms. In the case of Electricity, bringing down the price using increased competition form (and in between) private sector is more of a dream than a practical reality even though it can increase the efficiency. After all electricity is not a commodity like Santhoor, Lux or like mobile connections which can be produced and distributed easily - here the scale and complexity are totally different.

Moreover this capital intensive sector required long term investments. Increasing the price of electricity is another tedious task, governments will think thousand times before increasing the rates as it will affect their chances in election. When the companies are working as departments, governments could have gave crores of rupees as budgetary support - just like the amount flowing from Union Budget to Railways, but it’s not a easily workable solution in the case of companies.

Disom Crisis:

So we have a problem - in fact we have multiple problems, we are not producing enough electricity (including the contribution from Private sector), we are not able to transmit this electricity efficiently and we are not able to distribute it properly to the end users 24*7.

Now let us come to the case of two privatized discoms, BSES (Reliance Infra and Delhi Government) and TDP (TATA Delhi Power - Tata Power and Delhi Government) - companies currently distributing power to Delhi. The recent twist in the story is something like this - Power generation companies including NTPC, which supplies a considerable portion of power to BSES - give deadline to the company for clearing the dues after it reached close to 3000Cr. Regulator DERC gave notices to BSES on November 25 asking why its licenses should not be suspended for failing to clear huge dues to the generation companies. According to BS report "The BSES, responding to a notice of DERC last week, presented its financial position to the regulator and said it could raise a loan of Rs 5,000 crores from IDBI bank provided Delhi government gives an assistance of Rs 500 crore."[3]

Well in short words - bail out. If the dues are not paid it may lead to a blackout of 70% of Delhi - a possibility which Delhi government don’t want to see. So government finally agreed for an equity infusion of 500Cr, R-Infra will infuse another 520Cr - which will enable BSES to get a loan of 5000Cr from IDBI. Good solution, problem solved? Of course not. This 5000Cr is not free amount; it’s a loan which needs to be repaid with interest. Assume that 3000Cr will go to the generation companies, then only 2000Cr left which may go for operation expenses. Now if they are continuing with the same policies, there is no doubt that there will be a reply of the same with in some years if not in some months. Now, Delhi government is infusing money to BSES will other discoms sat ideally? After all they may also face pressure on their balance sheets. Well Tata Delhi Power (TDP) also asked for an equity infusion!!!

This may not be an isolated scenario - What is the case in state run discoms? Whether these companies are actually covering their expenses or filling the gap using the money coming from state exchequer?

Some suggestions to solve the problem

The core of power sector is power. First of all, we need to have a comprehensive solution for creating enough power a core high capacity generation centres supplemented with small and medium size centres. Core ring capacity should be more than that of Ultra Mega Power Plants (UMPP). Nuclear or Thermal power could be the ideal choices. In case of Nuclear power, not the 200-300MW reactors, but something in the range of 4-8GW complexes where each unit can produce close to 1000MWe. This capacity should be supplemented by Hydro, Gas fired, Renewable energy plants.

Hope that government's 51557 crores R-APDRP will find a solution for Transmission and Distribution sector. But still we need to find a solution for the management and profitability of discoms - they should be able to sustain themselves. For this to happen government need to come up with some innovative plans - copy pasting the so called PPP, BOT, BOET from NHAI etc may not be applicable to Private companies in this sector as it is.


[1]. Ministry of Power, Government of India
[2]. KPMG Report - 'Power Sector in India - Jan 2010' 
[3]. Reported By Business Standard